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Last time I posted about radiocarbon I reported on an unexpected Iron Age date from the New Laund enclosure. At the time I suggested that the charcoal we dated had been moved into an earlier layer and I fingered the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris as the probable culprit. I can now completely and unreservedly withdraw this accusation.

Just about two weeks ago we had another batch of radiocarbon results back. These were all on charcoal fragments that Denise identified from the excavations at the New Laund and Whitewell Enclosures. Now I’ve had chance to think about what these results mean it is clear that we need to radically reassess our ideas about the New Laund Enclosure.

We have being trying to do two things with radiocarbon at New Laund. First to get dates that were both earlier than the construction of the circle of posts in the middle of the enclosure and then others that were later than its demolition – giving us an idea of not only when it was built but how long it was in use for. We were also trying to get dates from the enclosure ditch, to confirm our suspicion that the circle of posts and the ditch were in use at the same time.

(Very) long term readers may just about be able to recall that early in the 2012 season, when we started to dig the New Laund Enclosure, we fleetingly considered the idea that the site might be Iron Age. Then we started to find large quantities of worked stone tools, showing that there had been lots of either Neolithic or Early Bronze Age activity on this bit of the hill, and came to the conclusion that the features we were digging were likely to be of that date too.

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One of our new dates comes from here, about half way up the fill of the New Laund Enclosure ditch, and it calibrates to somewhere between 390 and 205 BC, right in the middle of the Middle Iron Age.

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On the timber structure itself we have the date from the bottom of this posthole showing construction also started in the 4th or 3rd centuries BC.

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And now we have another one from this upper fill of the same feature with exactly the same calibrated date range: 395  to 350 or 305  to 210 BC. This is excellent,as it allows us to combine the archaeological information with the radiocarbon dates. One radiocarbon date on its own tells you that there is a 94.5% chance that the thing you are dating died between a given range of dates. So the date from the base of the posthole only really told us that the structure was built at some point after 395 BC. Now we have this second date, which should have gone into the ground after the posts were removed, we can now be much more confident that the building, use and demolition of the structure all falls into the period between 395 and 210 BC.

What is round, later prehistoric and made of wood? Now we have an Iron Age date for this structure then the temptation to take our former timber circle, imagine a big round thatched roof on it and call it a roundhouse is very strong. If it is an Iron Age roundhouse it is a very big one. And, of course, the date from the main ditch suggests that it has a big enclosure around it. I am off to look up possible local parallels, which should make a whole blog post all on their own. There is also the question of what was going on at the site in the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age to leave all the worked stone artefacts we have found. However, next week’s post, assuming I get all the dissertations marked before then, will be an update on the new results from the Whitewell Enclosure, where the finds and the radiocarbon dates are in much closer agreement.

Rick

As it has been a little while* since my last post I thought I had better try and sum up all the progress we have had with the various projects since I last posted. This will chiefly involve telling you about what other people have been up to. I have been supervising five dissertations based on work we’ve done. These are all due in during the next month, so they are doubtless evolving and changing all the time, but I thought I would try and give you a flavour of what each student is up to and how it feeds into our overall research.

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Phil is looking at the prehistoric pits in and around the Whitewell Enclosure for his BSc project. He is interested in how the objects we found in each layer got to be there and what the differences were between the different shapes of pit. Inspired by work on big Neolithic pit complexes in East Anglia, he has been spreading all the finds from each layer in each pit out on tables in the archaeology lab to look for similarities and differences. This should hopefully let us see which pits are roughly the same date and were used in comparable ways.

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James is using all the magnetometer surveys carried out at New Laund since 2011 to look at what effect a whole lot of different factors have on the effectiveness of this kind of survey. Apart from involving him and Scott spending a lot of last summer walking up and down the farm, he has been pulling together information about the geology, topography and excavated archaeology. The plan is to be able to use this detailed information to give a really precise interpretation of all of the surveys.

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Dan is still working on the environmental evidence for his masters dissertation. Alongside the core he and Mairead took last summer he has been analysing a second core from further up the Hodder valley. We think that both the peat bogs sampled built up over the last 6000 years so together they should give a good picture of how the local environment changed during the period that the sites we have been digging were in use.

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Josh has been analysing the human and animal remains we excavated from Dunald Mill Hole in October last year for his BSc dissertation. He has discovered that the human bone from this site all seems to come from the same Romano-British child as the front of the skull first discovered by Di. Most of the bone is from the skull, although Josh has found a fragment of arm-bone too. He is sure that the original burial site was either at the entrance or even some way outside the cave and that all the bone was washed into the back of Pearl Passage, where we found it.

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Chelsea is re-analysing the human remains from George Rock Shelter, which Stephen and I excavated between 2005 and 2007. The bone and teeth from this site were originally studied by former students Gemma and Genvieve shortly after the dig finished. However, that was before we got radiocarbon evidence to show that although some of this bone is Neolithic there was also a much more recent burial at the site. For her BSc dissertation Chelsea has been trying to find a way to distinguish the ancient and (relatively) modern within the mass of mixed up fragments of bone.

*or if we are being strictly honest absolutely ages, apart from reblogging Julia’s lovely appreciation of Stephen, I now see that I haven’t posted anything here since October last year

I was out at Thornton earlier in the week to talk to the Wyre Archaeology Group about the discoveries we have made on the project and coincidently we have just had the first unofficial results from the radiocarbon dating programme. At the moment the dates don’t have lab numbers but they were all carried out by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Lab and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council’s NRCF scheme and we are very grateful for their support. As mentioned in previous posts we submitted bits of charcoal and bone from various features to try to build up a history of when the site was in use.

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This is [N06] the first feature that we have good dates for, the latest of a complex of intercutting pits inside the Whitewell enclosure and seen here being excavated by Phil and Kayla in July 2014. There were two layers in this pit and we managed to get a date from both of them. The lower fill built up sometime between 2271 and 2033 BC and charcoal was still going into the upper fill around 300 years later, as we have a date from that layer of between 1746 and 1618 BC. These dates belong at the beginning and end of the Early Bronze Age in Britain. We have always thought that [N06] was later than most of the other archaeology in this area, because the fill of it was visible as a charcoal spread from much higher in the sequence than some of the other pits. I think that this date shows that the complex as a whole was in use for a very long time, as we have a single late pit apparently in use for most of the Early Bronze Age. If the Whitewell Enclosure is a causewayed enclosure it should date to around 3600 BC, the use of the pits on the same hill clearly lasted for much longer than that. This is excellent news for our major project aim of trying to understand long-term landscape use and how people remembered special places.

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We also had some samples in from the presumed Late Neolithic henge and timber circle on the next spur of New Laund Hill. These included the single surviving piece of animal bone from that site (juvenile pig jaw) that Christina excavated with great care from the very sticky clay at the base of the henge ditch in 2012. This ought to have given us a very good date for when that ditch was originally dug but sadly, there was not enough collagen surviving in the bone to get a reliable result.

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We had two samples from this post-hole in the timber circle. One was a chunk of the cremation that was placed there after the post was put up and we are still waiting for that result to come back. The other was a small piece of hazel charcoal from base of the post-hole, which ought to tell us when the post was first erected. This date was entirely unexpected, given that timber circles are supposed to be either Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. That piece of hazel was burnt sometime in the Middle Iron Age, between 396 and 209 BC.

There are two possible explanations for this. Either we have found a very large round-house on the top of a hill, which is just coincidently full of earlier prehistoric types of worked chert, or, and I think I favour this explanation, the hazel charcoal has been accidentally displaced downwards into a much lower level than it was in originally. We did find some crucible fragments and charcoal in this general area at a much higher level which could well be Iron Age. If this is the case then my prime suspect for this is the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris. Thanks to many conversations with Kevin and Chris, UCLan’s resident earthworm specialists, I have seen impressive evidence of the depth that these animals can burrow. A single worm digs a vertical burrow with chambers which can be more than a metre deep.

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The (potentially) guilty party. The date we still have pending on the cremated bone from the top of the post-hole will be interesting. If that is Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, which is more in line with our expectations, then we will assume the hazel charcoal was intrusive. If that is Iron Age too then the worms are off the hook (sorry) and we have to come up with a new interpretation for our timber circle.

Rick

Although I am a cave archaeologist, unlike some of my colleagues, I have never been a caver. When I go into a cave it is to dig stuff up and I generally don’t go in that deep or down very small holes. This is fine, except when the archaeology happens to be a long way down a very small hole. This weekend we have been working with some caving colleagues to excavate Late Iron Age and/or Roman human remains from a cave near Carnforth and I have been right at the very feeble limit of my caving skills.

Di, one of the caving team, discovered the front part of a human skull while digging at the end of a narrow passage last spring. She reported it to Lancashire Constabulary, who had it radiocarbon dated and discovered it died sometime in the first two centuries AD and therefore was slightly too old to be a live enquiry. We then took the bone to Preston, cleaned it up and discovered that is was the frontal bone (basically the face bit) of a young child between 3 and 4 years old. The aim of this weekend’s dig was to find out how the skull got into the cave and if anything or anyone else was with it.

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The passage where the find was made ends in a series of pools, dammed by flowstone curtains. This photo shows the view across them looking back towards the way out. What we needed to do was divide this area up into 30 cm blocks and excavate the sediment out of each block in 5 cm layers. Working like this means that when we sieve the mud we know where everything we find comes from. Sieving took place at the surface and to get the sediment out to be sieved involved a long chain of bodies.

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Di, because she made the original find and had the skills to get in and out of the chamber, did the actual digging and recording on site. She put all the sediment into 10 litre lidded sample buckets and passed them out to me.

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This is as far into the final chamber as I could get. I leant round the corner like this and passed archaeological advice in one direction and waited for Di to pass buckets of mud and finds in the other. I labelled them and took them backwards behind me to a slightly wider fissure where I could turn round and pass them on.

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This is Andy, waiting for the next bucket. He then had to crawl about 15 metres to pass them on to Simon at the entrance.

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Once Simon got hold of them he then loaded them onto the fantastic Tyrolean ropeway which would carry them over the big drop into the main cave entrance and down to the streamway where they could be sieved and sorted.

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Josh and Tom spent all day getting very wet indeed sieving very intensively. By late afternoon they had gathered both an admiring audience and an alarming backlog of buckets. This is actually the hardest part of all. It is cold, wet, backbreaking work while everyone else is having all the fun digging or playing with rope tramways.

Thanks to everyone’s hard work we successfully removed all the sediment from the end of the passage. We discovered most of the rest of the original cranium and also quite a bit of animal bone. Because we didn’t find either the jawbone or any of the rest of the skeleton we are assuming that the original burial was much nearer the surface and that the cranium was later washed into the depths of the cave.

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Final shot of the day. Di emerging from the passage entrance as the last one off site.

Rick

We were very lucky at Whitewell to have lots of interested groups of visitors while we were excavating. We had formal visits like the Festival Bowland event and casual drop-in groups of hill-walkers wondering what all the inverted people were doing in the hole behind the electric fence. Every time this happened someone, usually me because I was the person on site least likely to be doing some essential part of the archaeological process,  would give a site tour and a bit of an explanation as to what a causewayed enclosure was. One question that a lot of people asked was why was there so much Neolithic activity around New Laund Hill?

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This is the view north from the summit of the hill on the day of the Bowland Festival walk. We are looking down over the site of the timber circle (between the sheep and the small rowan tree on the plateau everyone is walking towards) and the henge (which enclosed the whole plateau). The photo also shows the upper part of the Hodder valley heading north really clearly. When we were giving tours we always said that this valley must have been an important routeway in the Neolithic period. The hill would have been visible from a long way away up and down the valley. It was a distinctive place along a well-frequented route. It was also being transformed from early on in the Neolithic as people dug pits on the side of it. Its distinctiveness and these transformation led to it becoming the site of first the gatherings at the causewayed enclosure and then the more formal ritual monuments of the henge and timber circle. At least, that was the story we told the punters this year.

Now I am back in the office and have time to look at maps and satellite images of northern England I have spent some time looking in a bit more detail at where these possible Neolithic routeways might go. All this is highly speculative, of course, but based on our blithe assertion on site that the big river valleys like the Hodder and Ribble act as routeways I have drawn lots of Dad’s Army style arrows all over the north.

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One thing that this has shown is that, if you were coming from the west along the RIbble and heading for Yorkshire, then you might well use the Hodder as your main route east instead of the Ribble. Both will get you up into the Pennines and into Swaledale (take this route for East Yorkshire and good flint sources) and Teesdale (take this route for the Vale of Mowbray and Scandinavia).

Heading north-west through the Trough of Bowland would, in theory, give you a route up into the Lakeland fells and to the stone axe source at Langdale. However, unless you had another reason for visiting Whitewell, there would have been lots of more direct routes from almost anywhere to the Lakes.

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Wildlife of the day – very small moorhen chicks going for their first swim on the Lancaster canal yesterday. Taken on my crappy old phone so apologies for the image quality.

Rick

I had an email a few weeks ago from Fleur Schinning in the Netherlands about research she is doing on blogging and archaeology there as part of her master’s thesis. As part of her work she is looking at English language blogs from the UK and US, because as she notes  – in these countries blogging seems widely accepted and used a lot as a tool in creating support for archaeology, and I have come across some very interesting and successful blogs

She goes on to say that public archaeology has been developing considerably in the Netherlands for the last couple of years, but there is still a lot of room for new ideas and innovations. She would like to be able to explore how blogging in archaeology contributes to public archaeology and to question the bloggers and readers of these blogs. I promised her that I would host one of her questionnaires on Sheltering Memory and now that I am not busy digging I am following this up properly.

Fleur’s questionnaire can be viewed here: http://goo.gl/forms/z3BAUTyYUL. Please use it to feedback on what we do and on archaeological blogging in general. All participants also have a chance to win a small prize; six issues of Archaeology Magazine.

Thanks in advance

Rick

We are all done now with the fieldwork for another year. We spent today putting the turf back on all three trenches, tidying and cleaning and then driving everything back to Preston. Thanks very much to Clare who drove the kit van while I drove the bus.

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After the mess the cattle made of our re-turfing last year we made even more of an effort to fit the giant grass and thistle jigsaw back together properly this time. This included chopping up many small slices of turf to wedge in any visible gaps and then, once it was all in place, lining up to stamp it all down. Sadly neither video or still images exist of us line-dancing across the trench, all doing choreographed bunny hops.

The wildlife of the day was a shrew we found hiding in the turves, unfortunately no picture of that either as it was much to quick for me.

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End of dig group shot at about 2.00 today of the last survivors. From left to right: Beth, Chelsea, Sammy, Katie, Debbie, Me, Rob, Scott, George, Phil and Danny. Thanks to everyone on the project this year for all your fantastic hard work. It is due to this that we have had such a successful season.

I now have a week off. My brother is coming up tomorrow and we are going to take all the kids and go and get in the way at Ribchester, where they are now two days away from finishing.

Rick